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Hati shines the tenth edition of Little Haiti Book Festival

  • May 14, 2024
  • 16
  • 9

With a roster of vendors more than doubling since its inception ten years ago, the festival offers a selection of books as diverse as Haitians are.

Read this piece in English

The Little Haiti Book Festival brings together the stories, those who tell them, and those who appreciate the cultural significance of spoken and written language.

For the 10th edition of the event, on Sunday, May 5, 2024, the Little Haiti Cultural Center, a space typically at the heart of Miami’s vibrant Haitian community, saw an explosion of diversity, fueled by a packed crowd and a constellation of writers.

With a roster of vendors more than doubling since its inception ten years ago, the festival offers a selection of books as diverse as Haitians are.

Yvette Leroy, for example, who published “Wanègès”, is also the author of “Nostalji”, a collection of poetry and stories, published in 2016.

Leroy says she has been participating in the festival since it started in 2014 and that the event is “extraordinary” for the Haitian community.

Sitting next to Leroy was Pascale Solages, co-founder and general coordinator of the feminist organization Nègès Mawon.

Pascale Solages, co-founder and general coordinator of Nègès Mawon, at the Little Haiti book festival for her organization. | © Philippe Henold Buteau/AyiboPost

Solages attended the book festival to strengthen feminist voices among Haitians and raise funds for Nègès Mawon through the sale of four of their books. “Rezistans”, “Fwontyé”, “Fanmi” and “Poko Bout” present works by several writers including Edwidge Danticat.

“It is important to make the voices of Haitian women heard in Haiti and in the diaspora,” says Solages.

As Haiti goes through difficulties – much of which rests on the heads, shoulders and carrying capacity of women and children – Jean Th. Lindor was at the festival for his book “Le Cri du Cœur”, a collection of poems.

“Everyone needs to engage with Haiti for the country to shine,” says Lindor, emphasizing that Haiti is a good country full of wealth.

Haiti is going through what is very likely its most serious political and humanitarian crisis since the devastating earthquake of 2010.

This results in migration outside the country, which can be problematic for many people. Cultural differences, self-motivation, and other societal expectations can be a challenge to adapt.

Johanne Exilus knows this and wrote “Revolution” to help her readers motivate themselves.

Little Haiti Book Festival

Johanne Exilus, author of Révolution, a book of poetry and motivation for her readers at the Little Haiti Book Festival. | © Philippe Henold Buteau/Ayibopost

It contains poems and Exilus states that its aim is to help readers step out of their comfort zone.

“The book will tell you how to stay strong and overcome challenges” offers Exilus.

Exploring the challenges children face, Kisha Bazelais says the book she co-wrote with her husband is about teaching self-confidence.

Bazelais says the book “Ayo’s Life Lessons: The Barbershop” is intended to teach children to talk about themselves. The hair salon serves as a backdrop.

Akilah Passe and her husband, Max Passe, are another married couple who worked on a book together. With their children, they created “Ocean Heroes”.

Read also: Tanael Joachim: “If I were still in Haiti, I would not do comedy”

The cover characters – Ethan the Protector and Alayla the Sea Goddess – are based on Akilah and Max’s children. Ethan and Alayla also helped create the journal for the book. According to Akilah, black people should be the superheroes and not an afterthought.

“It’s a really fun, fantastic and adventurous way to get kids interested in preserving and protecting the oceans,” Akilah adds.

The protection of heritage and culture is at the center of Djenane Saint Juste’s two books: “The Mermaid and the Whale” and “Ti Sonson ak Pouvwa Tanbou”.

“The Mermaid and the Whale” is about the island of La Gonave, and “Ti Sonson ak Pouvwa Tanbou” is intended to celebrate the drum and Fort Jacques, a historic site located in the mountains of the capital.

Saint Juste compares the drum to the Haitians’ first cell phone.

«[C’était] our first tool of communication from one mountain to another, to prepare the Maroons for the revolution without the colonizers understanding it,” explains Saint Juste.

“Ti Sonson ak Pouvwa Tanbou” also includes a CD of original music, and Saint Juste worked with Haitian illustrators for the book’s illustrations.

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Haiti and Haitian culture being the common theme of the book festival also meant that elements presented in one book could be more prominent in another author’s work.

“Spiritual Fasting” by Langlichmie Normile focuses on the practice of fasting in Vodou.

In the book, Normile explains why fasting is important. She also addresses the importance of clothing in Vodou by identifying the meaning of outfits and giving meaning to the use of colors.

Walking through the Little Haiti Cultural Center, festival attendees saw more color than usual thanks to the colorful lawn chairs and umbrellas set up in the courtyard.

The festival was started by the owner of Libreri Mapou, Jean Mapou, who says he started the festival to give some life to the community as it is slowly dying.

“The developers are taking over, the culture here is disappearing,” says Mapou.

The Little Haiti Book Festival is now partnered with the Miami Book Fair, which helps secure grants. Of the 10 to 15 vendors the festival started with, Mapou says there are more than a hundred this year.

While book sellers wait patiently, hoping for potential buyers in the foyer outside the auditorium and market square, food sellers line up around the building.

Little Haiti Book Festival

Part of the Little Haiti Cultural Center market where books were for sale by their authors. | © Philippe Henold Buteau/AyiboPost

The event is peppered with music. Sellers offer not only books and food, but also frozen drinks, clothing and accessories, soap, body milk and cosmetics, as well as paints.

In the community room, there are workshops and a space designed for children called “children’s alley”.

According to Second Ward County Commissioner Marlein Bastien, the festival is sold out.

“Everywhere you look, there are activities for adults and children,” Bastien says at the end of the second of two discussion forums taking place in the auditorium.

The first forum focuses on AI in the arts and has prompted warnings about the effect of bias in AI development, where the technology is primarily developed by wealthy, white men. Caution around training tools such as ChatGPT was also explored, in the context of authors requesting that their works be removed and not exploited by models.

However, one of the commenters suggests that ChatGPT can be used to add to artists’ voice or brand identity. ChatGPT is useful, said another commenter, in that it can capture the literal meaning of words, but cannot do so for everything that goes into composing poetry.

The second forum challenges both speakers and the audience, with the discussion focusing on honesty in the media, considering the expectations of specific readers and listeners that have upset Haitians.

Little Haiti Book Festival

Speakers from the Haiti forum in the Media – from left to right – Patrick Eliancy, information director of Island TV; Elizabeth Guerin, radio and television producer and host, co-owner of Island TV, and owner of ImaginArt Media Productions; and Jafrikayiti, writer and radio host.

Jacqueline Charles, foreign correspondent for the Miami Herald, introduced the panel discussion by addressing the misfortunes facing local journalists in Haiti: the Nouvelliste printing press attacked, Radio Caraibes forced to relocate and six journalists in Haiti killed during of the last three years.

The challenges of local reporting – on top of the information available to organizers, activists and voters – are then felt by the public, which expects reporting on Haiti from mainstream media to be as deeper than those the Haitians talk about.

Charles must defend himself and correct information about the Presidential Transitional Council, created with a two-year deadline to select a president and prime minister and organize elections in Haiti, even though most Haitians will have no say in the matter. say about the identity of the President of the Council and that there will be no parliament during the interim period.

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The debate was as lively and sincere as most political discussions involving Haiti.

Then, towards the end of the festival, Inez Barlatier performed with her children’s group Tati Nuzi and Friends. Barlatier has performed at the festival before, but this was the first time she performed as part of a children’s group.

Barlatier says she was happy to be there, and that the festival is incredible for showcasing artists.

“This type of event reminds us to preserve our heritage,” added Barlatier.

Par Philippe Henold Buteau

Cover image: Dance and music at the tenth edition of the Little Haiti Book Festival, May 10, 2024. | © Miami Book Fair

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Philippe Henold Buteau